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Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said he has spent the last few weeks “reintroducing” himself to other GMs in the business.
This was because for the last year or so, many were confused about Tallon’s role with the team. Over that span he saw his job go from GM, to a more scouting-centric post to being back in charge of making deals after Tom Rowe went from general manager to interim coach.
After the season Rowe was let go and Tallon was officially re-named general manager. Since then he has been telling his peers that he’s indeed the man in Florida again. Tallon was previously the Panthers’ general manager from 2010 until the summer of 2016 when the organizational structure shifted.
“(Other GMs) weren’t quite sure what was going on as far as what my status and who to talk to about trades and stuff like that,” Tallon said. “So, it was just to let them know I’m back in business and ‘here is what we’re going to do.’ That’s all. Nothing major.”
Outside of hiring a new coach and working out a new deal with legendary forward Jaromir Jagr, Tallon doesn’t have a ton to do. Several of Florida’s top players are signed to long-term contracts and a lot of their issues last season had to do with injuries to their core.
First-line center Aleksander Barkov played 61 games and linemate Jonathan Huberdeau played 31. When healthy, both were near point per-game players for Florida.
Center Nick Bjugstad played 54 games and defenseman Aaron Ekblad played 68.
Last season, the Panthers finished 35-36-11 with 81 points and missed the playoffs. After a strong stretch after the all-star break got them into postseason position, the team went 7-16-1 from Feb. 22 onward. The year before they went 47-26-9 with 103 points and won the Atlantic Division.
“Our team suffered offensively and we had a lot of one-goal games and with a healthy group we could have changed our fortunes,” Tallon said. “We were in it late into the season and so I look at without having all our top players, we hung in there. So it was a lot of good but it wasn’t good enough.”
Unlike some teams that moved quickly with new coaches, Tallon is taking his time with bringing in a new bench boss. He wants to find the right guy who can guide this group for a number of years. Last season the Panthers heard too many voices between Gerard Gallant, who was fired in November, and Rowe – along with too much outside noise on the direction of the organization.
“I think we have a real good nucleus of young players. I think we’re in good shape. Just have to – obviously the coaching is important right now. That’s one thing besides the draft that’s the other thing I’m focusing on is interviewing different people and trying to find the right mix for our young guys as far as the coach is concerned,” Tallon said. “That makes it a little bit busier for the spring but I’m enjoying meeting and interviewing as many different people from all different areas of the game. College, junior, American Hockey League, NHL. So I’m enjoying this process too.”
Tallon wouldn’t get too specific when asked about his coaching search. Currently, University of Denver coach Jim Montgomery, former Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien and San Jose Sharks assistant coach Bob Boughner have been referenced as possibilities for the Panthers.
“We want to make sure we do the right thing, you know who’s the right fit personality wise and technically sound, you know those things. Who’s a good teacher, who’s a good communicator, who’s a contemporary guy so we’re doing all the things we need to do to get to the right guy,” Tallon said. “There are a lot of good candidates out there too, so that’s encouraging.”
The biggest roster question revolves around when the Panthers will come to an agreement with the 45-year-old Jagr. Last season Jagr played in all 82 games but saw his numbers drop from 66 points the year before to 46. His goals also dipped from 27 to 16.
Florida still sees him as a fit and Jagr has given no indication that he is anywhere close to being done playing. In some respects a lot of his numbers went down because Huberdeau and Barkov – two thirds of Jagr’s line – were hurt for most of the season.
“I’ve spoke with (his agent) Petr Svoboda. I’ve spoken with Jaromir. We’re going to meet again next week in Cologne, Germany at the (World Championships), so we’re just talking right now and see what happens,” Tallon said. “It has been a great fit, he has done a great job for us, so we’ll see if we can make it work again.”
Tallon said there will be some roster tweaks, but nothing too major. They just involve giving their prospects a chance. This is the same core that succeeded two years ago and while changes need to happen they should be able to perform again at a high level next year if healthy.
“I think, we’ve got to make room for some of our young guys,” he said. “We have a couple of young defensemen that I think are ready. We have a couple of forwards we think are ready so we’re going to try to make the space available for our younger guys. I want to get a little more physical and a little quicker and get more offense obviously.”
As for Tallon himself, he has tried to move past the drama of the past year. His sole focus now is on building the Panthers back to where they were and he’s doing everything he can to make sure this happens.
“Whatever lessons I’ve learned in the history of the game is today’s important and be ready for tomorrow,” Tallon said. “What’s happened in the past has nothing to do with anything now. It’s time to – I’m just concerned about what’s going to make us better today. I don’t dwell on what happened. That’s over. We move forward. That’s the way I am. I’ve been around too long to have that affect me.”
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